The Second Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 3, 2018  
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Mark 2:23-3:6

“Shabbot Shalom.”
Peaceful Sabbath.
“Shabbot Shalom” is a traditional Sabbath greeting for Jewish people. They are wishing each other a peaceful Sabbath; they are wishing each other the peace that the Sabbath brings…

Since today is our Sabbath, Shabbot Shalom to you…
May you have a peaceful Sabbath. May this Sabbath day bring you peace.

I discovered that “In ancient Babylonia a particular day of distinctive character was known as sabbattu… It was designated specifically as the ‘day of quieting of the heart’” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible vol. 4, “Sabbath” p. 135). And yet, scholars don’t believe the origins of the Hebrew Sabbath lie in Babylon. They point to Canaanite culture, specifically to the Canaanite agricultural civilization that preceded the Babylonian practice of sabbatu. The “primitive” calendar used by the Canaanites revolved around the cycles of planting, ripening, harvesting, and then using crops (IDB “Sabbath” p. 135). These cycles lasted 50 days (7 weeks of 7 days, then 1 Sabbath day, or sabbatu as the Babylonians later referred to it).

Shabbot Shalom.
Peaceful Sabbath.
The day we quiet our hearts.

In our gospel reading for this day the Pharisees have missed the point of Shabbot Shalom. The Pharisees, who were men of faith, focused on Sabbath laws. Folks were not supposed to engage in any physical labors on the Sabbath. Folks were forbidden to engage in a list of specific activities.

According to the story, Jesus’ disciples had begun to pick heads of grain, presumably to eat. The Pharisees asked Jesus: Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? (Mark 2:24).
Later the same day, upon entering the synagogue, Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal the man, breaking Sabbath law (Mark 3:1-2).

Frustrated, Jesus asked “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4).

Shabbot Shalom explains the meaning of the question Jesus asked. He was asking why the Sabbath existed. Why have a day set aside for quieting our hearts? Did/does the Sabbath exist to be used as a tool for doing harm, as a legal cudgel people use to metaphorically beat each other over the head? Or was/is the Sabbath a day provided to us as a chance, as an opportunity to save life, to give life, to heal, to quiet our hearts?

Our world, our society, our communities, our individual lives all desperately need Shabbot Shalom. We need the peace that the Sabbath brings. We need Sabbath peace in our hearts, Sabbath peace in our relationships, Sabbath peace in our conversations, Sabbath peace in the words we use, Sabbath peace in the ways we interact with each other and the world.
We need to do those things that bring life to the world, things that are life-giving, rather than focus on those things that either literally or figuratively kill.

Shabbot Shalom.

On the cover of our bulletin you see a photo I took of my mom and my dad at church. We were attending the funeral of a friend my mom and dad have known for over 50 years. Her daughter is one of my oldest friends. As we sat there in worship at the church I grew up in and my parents still attend, my mom reached out her hand and held my father’s. It was a moment, a memory, an image I wanted to hold on to forever so I snapped a quick photo.
The image is loving. The image is life-giving. The image is how I picture Shabbat Shalom. I picture two elderly people who have made it their life’s practice to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. I picture two elderly people who literally and figuratively brought life into the world, together.

A young woman wrote online about Shabbat Shalom:

“Shalom gives wholeness – it’s as if to say to the passerby, “I wish the peace of God upon you that makes you whole.” It is an extraordinary thing that the peace of God, found in Sabbath rest, can be so renewing and restoring to our weariness and brokenness. Even more, Sabbath Shalom gives us the kind of peace that allows God to meet us and do the kind of work in and through us that [God] so desires” (Emily Bullbach, “Sabbath Shalom” 2/18/17 allsoulsboulder.org).

May this Sabbath day give you “the kind of peace that allows God to meet [you] and do the kind of work in and through [you] that [God] so desires” (Bullbach).

Amen.

Trinity Sunday – Sunday, May 27, 2018

May 27, 2018  
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Isaiah 6:1-8

We believe God is the creator of all. We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are, therefore, one with humankind made in the image of God, and one with the whole creation.

We believe God is the Word embodied in Jesus Christ who unites us through baptism with all Christians in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. As Lutherans, we are united in our confession that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and liberated to serve God’s whole creation, seeking peace and justice.

We believe that God the Holy Spirit is always at work, transforming and inspiring new ways of living in this world toward God’s promised, beloved, eternal community.

Grounded in this understanding of the Triune God, we believe God’s intention for humanity is abundant life for all.

So begins the ELCA’s “Draft of a Social Statement on Women and Justice.” I can’t think of a better way to begin a sermon on the trinity, a better way to focus on what it means for us as Christians, and then on another level what it means for us as Lutherans, to believe in a triune God.

We believe in God as our creator, God the Word embodied in Jesus Christ who unifies us, justifies us through faith, and liberates us to serve. We believe in God the Holy Spirit who is always at work, transforming and inspiring news of living.

This is our God, three in one and one in three. This is our God.

Worshiping a triune God is, perhaps, one of the most difficult subjects to preach and to teach—worshiping a triune God challenges reason and logic. Believing in God as Creator and Savior and Holy Spirit—when I taught World Religions at Western this was one of the things students always lifted up in their critiques of Christianity: the concept is simply too complex.

Which is why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther said, in his sermon on Trinity Sunday, that Christians need to “Renounce your reason and close your eyes; cling only to [The] Word and believe it” (Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, p. 413).

When we cling to the Word we are clinging to Christ. When we cling to the Word we believe in Christ’s power to save us. When we cling to the Word we cling to Jesus, who was with God in the beginning and who was God (John 1:1). When we cling to the Word we cling to Jesus who told us “When the Spirit of truth comes, [the Spirit] will guide you into all truth… and [the Spirit] will glorify me, because [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 15:13-14).

When we cling to the Word we can be imitators of the prophet Isaiah.

In our first reading today, the prophet wrote of a vision he had. Isaiah said he saw a vision of God on a throne. Isaiah said he saw angels surrounding the throne, he heard angels singing to God and to one another, singing words similar to those we sang this morning, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty…” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah said (to himself? To God?) “Woe is me… I am lost… I am a man of unclean lips… I live among a people of unclean lips… Yet my eyes have seen the king… (Isaiah 6:5).

Just like Isaiah, we were a lost people. We were unclean. But then Jesus came to the world, a gift of God, a gift of God’s SELF! When Jesus came to the world all of humanity saw our Sovereign God made human. And the world was saved.

In his vision, after an angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal and told Isaiah “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (Isaiah 6:7).

And then…God spoke to Isaiah, asking “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). And Isaiah answered God: “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8b).

Now it is our turn.

God continues to speak to us. God continues to ask “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

Our answer is “me.” Our answer is “we.” Send me. We will go.

God created the world, making the world good. God came to the world embodied in Jesus Christ, saving the world and calling is forward to seek justice and peace. God the Holy Spirit continues to work in us and through us, finding new ways to inspire us.

As children of God, may we be inspired to bring abundant life to all, as God intends.

Amen.

Day of Pentecost – Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 20, 2018  
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Happy birthday Church of Christ!

Today is Pentecost, the Day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and followers of Jesus who were in Jerusalem. The Spirit empowered them. The Spirit filled them. The Spirit enabled them to speak to strangers in the Strangers’ languages. It was a powerful day. A day of new beginnings.

The festival of Pentecost actually began long before.

It is written in Psalm 104 You send forth your Spirit and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.

The Spirit of God, present in the moments of creation has been and is and will be present with us, always. The Spirit joins with God the Creator, continually creating. The Spirit of God enlivens us and our world.

We are Pentecost people! As Pentecost people we celebrate the gift of life the Spirit of God continually blows across the world’s surface, into every person’s heart. The Spirit frees us…

The festival of Pentecost was a Jewish festival long before it became the birthday of the Church. Jewish tradition suggest that, as they fled slavery, it took the Hebrew people 50 days to travel from Egypt to Mt. Sanai. After arriving at Mt. Sanai, tradition states the Hebrews waited another 50 days to receive the ten commandments from God. Pentecost was a Hebrew festival celebration of those two 50 day periods.

Freed from slavery, God was once again sovereign in the lives of the Hebrews. Bound by new laws, God was known as God and as a mighty Ruler.

Pentecost was a day of Promise for the Hebrews. Prophets like the prophet Joel spoke of the Promised Day of the Lord, anticipating a day of judgment. Joel believed God said

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Prior to Joel’s prophecy it was believed that the Spirit of God had only been given to select people, important people: judges, kings, prophets. Even then, the Spirit of God was fickle. The Spirit visited some and then left, for example,. King Saul. When King David was anointed, the Spirit was silent. The Spirit filled Samson, then left him, then returned.

Then Joel spoke, saying I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.

The Spirit would fill sons and daughters, men servants and maids. The Spirit would not discriminate.

And then it happened in Jerusalem!

When the Spirit came all the apostles were filled, all of them began speaking in other languages. All of the crowd gathered for the Hebrew festival hear other languages spoken, each of them understanding the stories of God’s mighty deeds because the stories were told in their own languages.

There was a mighty wind.

Tongues of fire rested on each person.

Everyone was bewildered, they were amazed, they wondered at what they saw.

They saw Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

The Pentecost events was a fulfillment of God’s promise.

The Church of Christ was born.

Just as God’s Spirit freed God’s people to speak, the Spirit frees us to speak, now. The Spirit renews us. The Spirit touches us.

Each and every day God touches our lives with a spiritual, re-creative power. God gives us the power to wake each day, baptized, forgiven and renewed, loved and full of life. Full of God’s Spirited life!

May the love God gives us each and every day, and the life God renews in us each and every day empower our dreams. May we have visions for the future. May our dreams and visions be rooted in the love of Jesus our Christ, to whom the Spirit always gives glory.

We celebrate the glory of God today.

We celebrate the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ, shown to us by the power of the Spirit.

The power of the Spirit birthed a Church, The Church to which this church belongs.

We celebrate the Church’s birthday today.

We celebrate the new life we each have been and are given.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 13, 2018

May 13, 2018  
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John 17:6-19

I accused my spouse, Jeanne of eaves-dropping this past week. I was talking to myself and she was listening in. When she asked a question about what I said I told her she shouldn’t eavesdrop. Then later, when I got to work I went downstairs to talk to Jessica, our Associate Lay Minister. As I turned the corner into her office, I found her sitting at her desk, reading something off the computer to herself, out loud. Suddenly I was the one eaves-dropping.

I have the same exact reaction to today’s gospel reading. I am both a little embarrassed and a lot excited that we’re over-hearing a conversation between Jesus and God, a conversation the disciples are present for and hear… an intimate exchange that is full of love and trust and confidence and concern.

Jesus was having his last meal with his disciples prior to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Jesus knew what was about to happen. Jesus gave himself freely over to what was about to happen. But, there were a few things he needed to say to God first—things he clearly wanted to say in the presence of his beloved disciples.

Usually scholars refer to the disciple John, who wrote this gospel, as the beloved disciple, because that’s how he refers to himself. I’m saying they were all beloved. You can see the love and intimacy in this pray Jesus prays. Which is why I feel a little awkward reading the prayer, hearing the prayer. Jesus loved them so much.

“They were yours and you gave them to me” (John 17:6)

The disciples were a precious, beloved gift God gave Jesus.

“They have kept your word” (John 17:6)

Jesus had such confidence in them!

“the words you have given to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:7-8)

None of the other gospels present the disciples this way: with deep love and trust. Jesus understood the disciples were given to him as a gift.

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them” (John 17:10)

Jesus was saying to God, you entrusted me with the disciples and look how they have shined your light to the world! The world sees my glory in and through them! Already! We can trust them! They are ready.

And yet… and yet…

Jesus knows he is leaving his beloved disciples. He prays to God, asking for their protection.

“Holy Father protect them… so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11)

“Sanctify them…” (John 17:17)

Jesus knows the holiness of God. “To be holy is to be set apart” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 792).

“This address to God is particularly appropriate… because the intercessions that follow include Jesus’ request that God ‘sanctify,’ ‘make holy’ the disciples” (TNIB, vol. 9, p. 792).

Jesus asks that the disciples be set apart, that the disciples be delegated for a special task; I believe Jesus believed the disciples were “called” to do God’s holy, sacred work.

We are Jesus’ disciples.

Like those who lived with Jesus in his time and in his space, we are called to do God’s holy, sacred work.

Jesus is glorified in all we say and do.

Last year one of my nephews brought his family to my installation. Later, as he described Our Savior’s to his sister (who was unable to attend) he said “They focus their ministry on the community.”

We do. This is our call, to glorify Jesus in the services we offer others. Whether our ministry is to give a pantsuit from the Clothes Closet to a woman to wear as she looks for work, or our ministry is to give a gas voucher to a low-income person who needs to get to work, or our ministry is to provide a free meal and food to take home, or our ministry is to welcome every person who comes through our doors and to live a message of love to those who might be too afraid to come… we do look outward. As it should be.

Today let’s remind ourselves as we do these things:

*we are beloved disciples

*Jesus loves us for who we are and how we bring glory to him

*our work is holy

*we do what we do to bring glory to God, not to ourselves or each other

In this prayer that is our gospel reading today, that we are blessed to overhear, Jesus prayed

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them” (John 17:18)

We’ve got work to do.

May we serve God knowing God protects us, and loves us, and trusts us, and take pride in all we say and do in God’s name.

Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 6, 2018

May 6, 2018  
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John 15:9-17

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!”
(Joseph Scriven, the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”)

We are Jesus’ friends. The thought may seem trite; the thought may seem platitudinous. But Jesus said, “You are my friends…” (John 15:14).

Actually, more completely Jesus said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14).

Jesus did lay down his life for us, and for the world, which makes us his friends.

What about the flip side? Is Jesus our friend? Are we all friends? Whom do we call friend?

Are we willing to lay down our lives for Jesus? Are we willing to lay down our lives for each other? Who are we willing to die for? Anyone? Family? Friends?

Jesus commands us to abide in his love. Jesus commands us to love one another as Jesus has loved us. It follows then: when we choose to abide in the love of Jesus, we are answering Jesus’ call to love sacrificially. Jesus is calling us to give all that we can, to give everything, to give our lives for him, for his name’s sake.

Can we? Would we? Will we?

In the military dying for one’s country is called making the “ultimate sacrifice.” Are we willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith?

We might think Jesus is making a huge “ask” when he says “Abide in my love.” But he isn’t asking. His words are a command. Are we willing to obey?

In order to obey the command of Jesus, we first need to know the wonder, we need to know the graciousness, we need to know the ultimacy, we need to know the breadth and height and depth of the love Jesus has for us. We need to know his love and we need to know the joy that is in us when we revel in his love. Without that knowledge, without that joy—we won’t ever be bold enough to give all of ourselves in Jesus’ name.

Most of us have lived in love or are living in love. We live in love with a spouse and/or with children. We live in love with parents and/or with siblings. We live in love with close friends, with extended family. “Living in love with” does not require sharing physical space with. I might be living in love with a friend I see every few years. You might be living in love with a family member you see mostly online when you skype or have facetime together. We might be living in love with memories of people who have passed…

The point is, we have or we are or we will live in loves that we revel in. Like a pig playing in the mud, our joy is complete. Like a baby eating his or her first birthday cake. Like a young person with slime… our love “is so-o-o-o good!”

When we abide in love, real love, true love… we are willing to make sacrifices for the person or those people we love.

Jesus calls us to just such a sacrificial love when he calls us to be people of faith.

What shall we give?

James Shaw Jr.’s heroism ended a deadly shooting in a Tennessee Waffle House.

Shaw was sitting with a friend at the restaurant counter… when police say a gunman wearing nothing but a green jacket opened fire outside the restaurant. Glass shattered, dust swirled and Shaw said he saw a man lying on the ground. He bolted from his seat and slid along the ground to the restroom… But he kept an eye and an ear out for the gunman… And the moment the shooter paused, Shaw decided to ambush him… He charged at the man with the rifle and they tussled… The barrel of the rifle was still hot when Shaw managed to wrestle it from the gunman… He tossed it behind the counter and the gunman fled.

“I just want to be put out there like a regular person” Shaw told CNN. (CNN.com April 23, 2018).

What do we do with a story like this?

First, we recognize this as a love story. Somewhere in his life James Shaw was taught to love other people. In the heat of one moment James Shaw chose life for other people, even if it would have meant losing his own.

We need more love stories in our world. We need to teach people the value of life, the value of live filled with love. We need to revel in the love we have with each other, and with Jesus, all loves given to us by a God who so deeply loves us and loves our world.

This may sound trite, this may sound like another platitude, but “Yes, Jesus loves us. Yes, Jesus loves us. Yes, Jesus loves us. The bible tells us so” (Anna Warner, from the hymn Jesus Loves Me This I know”).

Live in his love. Celebrate his love. Embrace his love. Revel in his love. Roll around in his love. Embrace his love. Then go out and show the world how much you love the world because Jesus loves you.

Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 29, 2018

April 29, 2018  
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John 15:1-8

You will see in a few minutes, we are receiving a diverse group of new members into this family of faith. By baptism, by transfer, they come here feeling welcomed and, I hope, wanting this place, this community be their spiritual “home.”

Vincent, Jesse, Laura, Lucy, Jim, Jane, Scott, Mary, Mary and Stanley—welcome home.

Jesus said to his disciples “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

It is fitting we welcome new members today, on this day when the gospel reading leads us to consider wherein we abide. A secondary definition of the word “abide” is “to stay or live somewhere” (merriam-webster.com). We cannot literally, physically live in Jesus. But we can make his “house” our “home.” This is his house. This is our home. This is our house of faith. This is our sanctuary.

I remember the first time I walked into this sanctuary. I had been keeping myself away from any church for a few years. I was feeling vulnerable, maybe a little afraid. I had been told I would be welcomed here but I wasn’t sure. No member of the LGBT community is ever sure any welcome will really be welcoming. But I had met Pastor Rachel and I trusted her heart. And so I came here. To this place.

I have always described Pastor Rachel as my lighthouse. She shone the light of Christ on me, calling me through these doors. But it was you, all of you who were here then, who kept me here. You are my family.

I was reading a commentary where it says “the image of community that emerges [from these verses] is one of interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling… In a vine, branches are almost completely indistinguishable from one another… all run together as they grow out of the central vine. What this vine image suggests about community, then, is that there are no free-standing individuals in community, but branches who encircle one another completely” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 760).

This is our goal.

Interrelationship.

Mutuality.

Becoming indistinguishable from one another because we are one—one church, one house, one sanctuary.

Last week’s Young Peoples’ Message, when I asked parents to stand up and to tell their children they loved them, and then we all stood up and we all told all of the young people we loved them—the moment was powerful because we spoke with one voice. “I love you.”   And we do! We love each other. There is a joy in our loving that is genuine, it is holy, it is God’s.

Again, a scholar wrote “Were the church to live as the branches of Christ, individual distinctiveness would give way to the common embodiment of love. The distinctiveness of the community would derive solely from its relationship to God and Jesus, not the characteristics or even gifts of its members. The mark of the faithful community is how it loves, not who are its members” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 761).

I’d like to think that we love well here. That we love others as God loves us. That we love ourselves as God loves us. That we love God as God loves us. I do think, at least from my own experience, we are a loving place. But—there’s always opportunities for growth. Which is why we, the branches, need Jesus our vine, and which is why we the branches need God our Vine-grower.  We need to depend on Jesus. We need to depend on the wisdom and guidance of God.

One more point—the love we share here cannot only be for those we gather with, here. Our love must be for others. Our love must be seen in how we live with our neighbors. Our love must be for the strangers in our midst. Our love must be for everyone, always, here and around the world. That is how God loves us. That is how we are called to love and to live.

Amen.

Good Shepherd Sunday – Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018  
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John 10:11-18

“I’d do anything for you, dear, anything for you mean everything to me…”

(“I’d Do Anything” from Oliver).

The words aren’t the same but, basically Jesus is singing this song to us in today’s gospel.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

I’d do anything for you.

Anything.

For you mean everything to me.

Don’t take those words any other way than literally. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Jesus did lay down his life for us. Jesus died for us and for the world.

I’m tempted to say “ok. End of story.” And then sit down. But it is not the end of the story it is the beginning. We are in the season of Easter, after all. We are here to celebrate the resurrected Christ.

And yet, there is no resurrection without death. Jesus died for us and for the world.

Jesus said “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, for I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).

Did God intend for Jesus to die? Scripture is clear, God gave Jesus to the world out of love, to save the world. As Jesus tells us in today’s reading “I have received this command from my Father” (John 10:18).

Was his death a fulfillment of scripture? Yes. As Christians we believe he fulfilled the testimony of the prophets.

Did Jesus have a choice? Today’s reading certainly leads us to believe that he did.

What does this mean?

One scholar wrote “The identity of Jesus and the identity of the community that gathers around him are inextricably linked… For the community of faith, human identity is determined by Jesus’ identity… the community that gathers around Jesus receives its identity through Jesus’ gift of his life for them. In the end, to be a member of Jesus’ flock is to know oneself as being among those for whom Jesus is willing to die” (John 10:1-20 The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 9, p. 672).

“I’d do anything for you, dear anything for you mean everything to me…”

This is where the story begins for us. The story begins when we see ourselves as people for whom Jesus died. This is where our story begins as children of God, as followers of Christ, as members of this community of faith, as members of the Church, capital C that rhymes with D which stands for death, a death partnered forever with resurrection.

Who we are cannot be separated from who Jesus is as presented to us in this story.

“Jesus makes the love of God fully available by expressing that love in his death” (NIB vol. 9, p. 673).

Jesus was and is our Good Shepherd.

Jesus died for us. Jesus did everything for us because we, and the whole world were and are everything to Jesus.

Our gospel text is a love story.

Our gospel text is our story.

Our Gospel text is the world’s story.

I’m tempted to move ahead and start talking about what sacrificial love means for us and how we are called to live our lives as followers of Jesus. I’m tempted to move ahead and talk about the sacrifices we are called to make. I’m not going to do anymore than reference the temptation… at least for today.

Because I want you to know, and to remember, and to walk out of this space, or to walk out of any room you might be sitting in as you worship with us online

BELIEVING THAT JESUS DIED FOR YOU.

Jesus died for you. And for me. And for the world.

Our Good Shepherd died for us.

Thanks be to God for the new life we have been given.

Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15, 2018  
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Luke 24:13-35

The road to Emmaus. The village is as mysterious as the story. In modern times, no less than four communities outside of Jerusalem claim to be the original Emmaus. Each village has its own proof, its own religious relics, and its own religious scholars verifying its claims. But, truth be told, no one knows for sure where Emmaus actually was. All we know is that two disciples of Jesus were journeying to Emmaus, when they encountered a stranger.

Which is another point of interest. The two disciples. No one really knows who the two disciples were. Who has heard of Cleopas, outside this particular story? No one, prior to the telling of the story. Who will ever hear of Cleopas again? No one. This was his moment. And note: his companion was never even named.

Our gospel story is a mystery, shrouded in grief. Or is it a story of grief, shrouded in mystery?

Two followers of Jesus were walking to Emmaus. A lot had happened to them in prior days, so they were doing what anyone might have done: talking about it. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The last supper with Jesus. The arrest of Jesus. The shuffling back and forth between religious and civil courts of Jesus. The unruly crowds, the mob, demanding the death of Jesus. Jesus hanging on the cross.

People were grieving. In Luke’s version of the story, when the story of the resurrection was told to a small group of women, they went and told others what they had heard. No one believed them. Only Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself if it was empty. It was.

Next thing you know two unknown disciples were walking to Emmaus. The two of them were so busy talking about Jesus, they did not realize Jesus had joined them on their journey. We as the readers of the story know Jesus walked with them. They didn’t. In their hearts and lives, Jesus was dead. As was their hope. Even though the man they had hoped in walked with them—they didn’t know him.

The two disciples were so absorbed in their grief, they didn’t recognize the presence of the person they were grieving.

Think about this: if the two disciples hadn’t invited Jesus to stay with them once they reached Emmaus, if they hadn’t invited him to share a meal with them, and if he hadn’t taken the bread, blessing it and breaking it—they never would have known who he was. Even as it happened, as soon as they recognized Jesus he disappeared…

Where does Jesus meet us?

The most obvious answer is through Word and Sacrament. Jesus speaks to us in and through the Word. Jesus appears to us in the breaking of the bread each week.

Where else might we find him?

In the gospel of Matthew it is written that Jesus said to some righteous people

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (25:35-36)

Then the righteous people asked “When did we do these things?” (25:37-39)

And Jesus said

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40)

This is our mystery: having the faith to BELIEVE that we see Jesus when we see those who are hungry. Having the faith to believe that we see Jesus when we see those needing clothes and shelter. Having the faith to believe that we see Jesus when we see the homeless, we see Jesus when we see the sick, or see those in prison.

How often do we look at those who are suffering and see—really see who they are? How often do we see Jesus?

How often are we so caught up in our own stuff, our own thoughts and feelings, that we forget to hear the needs of others?

What is interesting to me about this story is that Jesus never let on to the disciples who he was, he simply stayed with them until they figured it out for themselves.

Jesus didn’t go “Hey! It’s me! I’m the guy you are talking about!”

The same can be said for us, now. Folks who need us don’t jump up and down yelling “help me!” They don’t say “Hello! I need you right now. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I need a home I hurt.” Some people do. Others don’t. Others languish until someone notices their need.

This could happen to us. Jesus could be walking with us. Jesus could be that guy sitting on the corner asking for some money. Jesus could be the guy sitting on the sidewalk with his back up against a cold brick building. Jesus could be the person walking into the church office, asking for a gas voucher. Jesus is those people—according to him.

How will we treat him?

What will we say?

Will he vanish before we’ve had a chance to help?

Or, if we are the one needing assistance, if we are the one who is hungry, who is hurt, who thirsts… how do we see Jesus mirrored in our own need? How do we respect ourselves, maintaining our own dignity? How do we ask others for help?

These are important questions to answer. Before answering we need to listen, we need to open our hearts and minds. We need to open our eyes to see, to really see Jesus.

Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

John 20:19-31

When he saw the wounds, when he touched the wounds Thomas believed.

Thomas, traditionally known as “doubting Thomas,” struggled to believe what the other disciples were saying when they told him they had seen Jesus. Everyone saw Jesus die. Everyone knew Jesus was buried, and where. But then, only two days later, Mary was telling folks that the tomb Jesus was buried in was empty. And that she had seen Jesus, alive. That same night Jesus appeared to almost all of the disciples, locked in a room. They saw him. He spoke to them.

Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t in the locked room with the other disciples. He doubted his friends when they told him they had seen Jesus alive. But then Jesus appeared to them all and Thomas was able to touch the wounds in Jesus’s hands, to touch the wound in Jesus’ side.

Scripture tells us Jesus told Thomas “Reach out your hand and put it in my side…” (John 20:27). Thomas was touching an open wound.

Jesus was alive.

***

This is a place where Jesus meets us. In our wounded-ness.

A resource I was reading on this text said “Today, the power of the resurrection is most realized in the real, deep wounds of Jesus’ own body” (Sundays & Seasons for Easter 2 2018). And it is provocative to consider that, although Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus still carried his wounds with him.

He carried his wounds on his body… open wounds.

Recently a woman came to church greatly distressed. She was hearing voices. Evil voices. Voices telling her she was condemned, telling her she would not be saved. She had sinned, an awful sin. As she and I spoke she flipped through the bible reading verse after verse, telling me the verses were clear, she would not be saved. Her distress was palpable. I kept telling her Jesus loved her. I told her the bible was clear, she was forgiven and loved. I encouraged her to listen for God’s voice, because God was speaking words of love to her. She began to cry, saying “I try. But I can’t hear God…”

“I can’t hear God.”

We sat in the chapel talking. The bible was on the pew between us. She kept flipping the pages, reading verses that condemned her for her sin. Finally I reached my hand out and I closed the bible gently. I said “This book was not written to be used as a weapon. You are using it to hurt yourself. This is a book of love. God loves you.”

Our eyes locked. I asked her if she was baptized. She said yes. I told her that, when she was baptized her sins were washed away. I told her she could wake up every day knowing her sins were washed away. She was and is forgiven. I repeated over and over, God loves you. You are forgiven. God loves you…

It was evident, her sin left her with a deeply wounded spirit.

God comes to us in our wounded-ness, God comes to us to offer us healing and love.

Whatever your wounds, however deep or superficial, God is there with you, understanding the pain of those wounds. God empathizes. God watched God’s son die, knowing it was necessary in order to save the world.
Of course, God knew Jesus would rise from the dead. Which brings us full circle to the matter of Jesus’ wounds.
When Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ hands, to place his hand IN Jesus’ side, Thomas trusted what the disciples said was true.

When Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ hands, to place his hand IN Jesus’ side, Thomas believed Jesus had risen.

Thomas ceased to doubt.

Thomas had faith in the risen Christ.

We don’t have the privilege of being able to touch the risen Christ, but Jesus has risen and he is here with us. Jesus is here, speaking to as the Word, through the Word, telling us we are loved and forgiven.
Jesus is here, speaking to us through the gift of his body and blood, through bread and wine, telling us his love and forgiveness is for all people.

Jesus is here as we reach out to each other, as we reach out to our community, as we reach out to the world sharing his words of love and grace.

Jesus is here. Jesus is in our hearts. Jesus is on our minds.
Thanks be to God, Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 1, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

John 20:1-18

Think of the early morning. When the sky is still dark but the day has begun. If you step outside you hear that the birds awake and singing.

The day may have been just such a morning, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus. The day was early, still dark. Mary was mourning the death of a man she followed, a man she deeply cared about, a man she loved. Mary was alone in her grief… when she realized something was wrong! The stone that had been put in place in the front of the tomb, sealing the tomb, had been removed! Mary ran to tell Peter and John, two of the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, finding it empty. The two men saw and they believed Jesus had risen from the dead.
And so they went home.

Mary Magdalene did not go home. Mary Magdalene “stood weeping outside the tomb” (John 20:11).

As she wept, (as she wept!) Mary bent over to look in the tomb. She saw two angels. The angels asked why she was weeping.
“They have taken away my Lord! I do not know where they have taken him!” (John 20:13).
She was weeping, she sounded desperate. Where was Jesus??? What had they done with Jesus?
Then she turned around. Someone was standing there. She thought he was the gardener. The person asked her “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15).
Mary does not recognize Jesus! She tells the man “If you took the man buried here, where did you put him? Tell me where you put him! I will take him…”

Then Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name. Jesus said “Mary” (John 20:16).

That’s all it took.
Mary turned.
Mary spoke.
“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher) (John 20:16).

Rabbouni! The word in Hebrew can mean Teacher. It can mean My Master. It can mean Great Teacher. It can mean My Great Teacher. Whatever it meant, the conversation feels intimate to us. The conversation feels personal. The conversation feels loving.

Jesus was alive. Mary loved Jesus. Jesus loved Mary. The resurrected Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name, and she knew him.

***

My Grandma Richmond died when I was a senior in college.
I had four grandmas when I was growing up. My maternal Grandma “Ray” died when I was 10. My Grandpa Ray remarried a few months later. His second wife died a few years after they married. Years later he married again. Arlene. She died, too.
My Grandma Richmond was the only grandma I had who I simply knew as “Grandma.”

When I was in my first year of college I spent my J-term living with my Grandma and Grandpa Richmond. I worked at their church, shadowing their pastors. The pastors described my Grandma as a religiously devout woman. When they drove by her house in the evening they could see her inside, sitting next to her sewing machine under a single standing lamp, reading her bible.
I thought my Grandma was great because she made fresh whipped cream for me every day the whole month I lived with them, simply because she knew how much I loved whipped cream.

Legend has it that, before my Grandma died she was lying in her hospital bed when, all of a sudden she sat up in bed, stretched her arms out in front of her (as if she was reaching for someone) and said “I’m coming!” Then she died.

I believe, in that moment, God called my Grandma by name. Did God take the time to say “Meta Martha Bertha Recknagel Richmond”? I don’t know. Perhaps God simply said “Meta.”

Meta loved God. God loved Meta. God called Meta by name and she knew God.

This is the promise we celebrate today. We celebrate the promise of new life.

God gifts us with life on this good earth as God’s much loved children. And God gifts us with the promise of everlasting life. Life lived with God. Forever.

When each of us who have been baptized was baptized, we were named. At my baptism my name was spoken: “Joanne Sue Richmond, child of God.”
Your name was spoken when you were baptized.
We were promised new birth, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.

Those words were a resurrection promise.

Jesus calls us by name each and every day. Jesus loves us. Always and forever. Always and forever.

Thanks be to God! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

 

 

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